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No public comment on Rio Vista tax deal PILOT pact would save company $69.5 million

A possible 10-year tax break on a proposed 25-story hotel drew no comment from the public at a hearing Tuesday afternoon held by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

Rio Vista, a Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., company that had no representatives at the hearing, is proposing a $171 million hotel and condominium complex for 1001 Buffalo Ave.

The company previously operated Promex Medical, an equipment plant that closed more than a year ago, on the same site.

Rio Vista had obtained a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement through the IDA in 2001 for Promex, but that was rescinded last month because the company had failed to maintain employment levels.

PILOT payments under the newest proposal would total $45 million over 10 years and would save the company $61 million in property taxes and an additional $8.5 million in sales and mortgage recording taxes.

IDA Assistant Director Larry D. Witul, who was at Tuesday's public hearing in City Hall, said the agency will vote on the proposed tax break Thursday morning.

The proposal submitted to the IDA anticipates a complex with 1,016 hotel rooms and 508 condominium units, as well as retail space and a 430-space underground parking ramp.

Witul had no timeline for the project but said the tax break, if approved, is contingent on the company gaining the zoning and planning approvals necessary from the city.

"They cannot proceed or gain any benefits until everything is in place," he said. "Ideally, they were looking at getting things wrapped up with the city in the next few months."

The proposed hotel site is at the southern entrance to downtown and is currently zoned for industrial use. The city's current law limits the height of buildings downtown to 20 stories.

Thomas DeSantis, the city's senior planner, said both those matters would change under a set of proposed comprehensive and zoning plans submitted last month to the City Council.

DeSantis said those documents, which would be the first comprehensive update to the building code since the early 1990s, would allow the proposed hotel to be five stories above the height restriction as a bonus for including underground parking. The new zoning also would rezone the proposed hotel site to downtown commercial.

The public and environmental review process for those plans is expected to take at least several months and will be led by the Council, which scheduled its first work session for the proposed changes for 4 p.m. Monday.

"Their whole development is premised on the fact of adopting the new zoning," DeSantis said. "If we don't adopt, they're kind of just out there by themselves."

He said the project would require so many variances under the city's current zoning code that the company has decided to wait on the Council's review of the new plans.

While the IDA considers a new PILOT deal for the proposed hotel, the property, which is assessed at $1.2 million, will be taxed at 100 percent of its value.

Instead of the former $41,365 PILOT payment, IDA attorney Mark J. Gabriele said Rio Vista will pay a prorated tax bill for 2007 city and county taxes and 2006-07 school taxes. A full year's taxes at current rates would cost $77,852, The Buffalo News calculated.

Rio Vista officials have said they are working with a New York City bank on financing for the hotel.

DeSantis said he has viewed preliminary plans, engaged in several conversations with the company and believes the plan "fits the zoning and what the community expects to see there."


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